Exploring ways to reset or enhance the immune system’s capacity to fight cancer

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Stephan Mielke is working in the field of cancer immunotherapy – how cancer cells can be attacked by using the immune system. His research focuses on exploiting the potential of the patient’s own immune system as well as on improved methods for transplanting blood stem cells from another person.

Stephan Mielke. Foto: Creo Media Group.A malignant tumour consists regularly of many different types of cancer cells which may undergo further alterations over time. Therefore ideal therapies against cancer should capable of targeting the disease in all its forms even if it is undergoing change. Stephan Mielke believes that this makes the immune system the perfect weapon against cancer. 

“Our immune system is normally capable of detecting and eliminating cancer cells,” Stephan Mielke says. “However, cancer cells may escape this control. I am working on cancer immuno-therapy dealing with the question on how we can reset or enhance the immune system’s capacity to fight cancer.” 

One well-established form of cancer immunotherapy is the transplantation of blood stem cells applied in the treatment of leukaemia and other blood cancers. But in recent years there have been rapid developments in immunotherapy for other types of cancer, according to Stephan Mielke. 

Research in this area focuses not only on removing the barriers used by the cancer cells to block the immune system, but also on strategies to manipulate immune cells in order to enhance their potency. One example is the CAR T-cell therapy in which the patient’s own T cells are reprogrammed to recognise and kill cancer cells. 

Stephan Mielke has also been largely involved in developing a technique to prevent the conflict occurring when the two immune systems in stem cell transplantation do not match. The method is planned to be soon tested in a Phase III multi-centre study in Europe and North America.

Stephan Mielke 

Professor of Haematology and Cell Therapy in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Stephan Mielke was born in 1969 in Bielefeld, West Germany. In 1999 he graduated from Medical School and received his doctoral degree from Georg-August University in Göttingen. In the same year, he started his residency and fellowship program at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. From 2004 to 2007 Mielke carried out his postdoctoral research at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, subsequently joining the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg where he has been Professor of Medicine since 2014.

In connection with his move to KI, Mielke has been appointed Scientific Director for the Theme Cancer and as head of CAST at Karolinska University Hospital.  On 1 January 2017, Stephan Mielke was appointed Professor of Haematology and Cellular Therapy at Karolinska Institutet.

Text: Anders Nilsson, translated from Swedish, first published in “From Cell to Society” 2017.

Cancer and OncologyProfessor